Senate confirms Bridenstine as NASA chief

Rubio reverses his opposition.
Republican Rep. Jim Bridenstine at Senate Commerce Committee hearing. (Getty)
Republican Rep. Jim Bridenstine at Senate Commerce Committee hearing. (Getty)
Published April 19, 2018|Updated April 19, 2018

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate today confirmed Jim Bridenstine as the new NASA director, with Sen. Marco Rubio providing a crucial vote after once threatening to scuttle President Trump's nominee.

"While I wish the president would have nominated a space professional to run NASA, the unexpected April 30 retirement of the Acting Administrator would leave NASA, an agency whose mission is vital to Florida, with a gaping leadership void unless we confirm a new administrator," Rubio said in a statement. "Because of this I decided to support the nomination of Rep. Bridenstine. I expect him to lead NASA in a non-political way and to treat Florida fairly."

Sen. Bill Nelson, who once flew into space, blasted the choice.

"His hearing in the Senate Commerce Committee was among the most contentious that I've ever been a part of," Nelson said Wednesday in a floor speech. "He was voted out of the committee on party lines and senators on both sides of the aisle have expressed doubts both publicly and privately to me on his qualifications for the job.

"My opposition to this nomination comes from decades of experience and an understanding of NASA's history and having lived through some of its darkest moments. I have no doubt that the nominee is passionate about our space program and I don't doubt his motivation or his intentions. I think that what's not right for NASA is an administrator who is politically divisive and who is not prepared to be the last in line to make that fateful decision on go or no go for launch."

In an interview Wednesday, after Rubio joined a procedural vote to set up final confirmation, Nelson declined to comment on his fellow Floridian.

"I don't think I want to characterize how I feel," Nelson said.